What Do Lutherans Mean by "Evangelical"?

Holy Trinity's full name is Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. Its parent body is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Yet both the ELCA's and Holy Trinity's confession of faith may strike the careful thinker as not overly "evangelical."

The Greek "Evangelion" and the German "Evangelisch"

The word "evangelical" comes from the Greek “evangelion,” which means "good news" or "gospel." It is in this sense—being gospel-centered—that Luther and his co-religionists called and still call themselves "evangelisch" (in German) or "evangelical" in English. The Lutheran church in Germany is still called Die evangelische Kirche in Deutschland.

Being an Evangelical in America

In America, at least outside Lutheran circles, the term "evangelical" has come to describe a large family of churches that, broadly speaking, share an emphasis on "new birth" (being "born again") and a concern for sharing the faith ("evangelizing").

One can find Lutheran churches that also emphasize "new birth" and that show great zeal for sharing the faith, but as a general rule even these churches primarily understand the term "evangelical" in this original sense and only secondarily in the sense common now in America.